Maven's Nest

Reel Life: Flick Pix





ANNOTATED OVERVIEW OF WOMEN FILMMAKERS AT THE 2021 TRIBECA FILM FESTIVAL

By Nora Lee Mandel



The 20th anniversary Tribeca Film Festival June 9 - 20, 2021 returns to its original role of revitalizing New York City after a crisis. After 9/11 the focus was on Downtown Manhattan, while now the post-pandemic scope extends city-wide, with indoor and outdoor screenings and events that encompass a myriad of categories and activities, including “At Home” streaming (that platform continues through June 23).

For those of us who follow women in film, the anticipated centerpiece of the Festival for nine years is the Nora Ephron Award “created to honor the spirit and vision of the legendary filmmaker and writer”. Thanks to FF2 Media for again featuring my annual coverage of the Ephron Award.
This year Nia DeCosta (2018) became the first Ephron Award winner invited to membership in The Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences.


In 2020, the Ephron Award guidelines were more explicit than before: “One narrative film directed by or written by a woman making its World or International Premiere” and the award-eligible films were identified in advance. In 2021, even films not shown in competition were evidently eligible. I am usually the only film critic to follow previous Ephron Award winners.

I also spotlight women on the creative team, what I call, only in writing, “Women Crew-Ed Films”, the work of women collaborators in the Festival’s feature and short films, television offerings, N.O.W. (New Online Work) shorts for online platforms and “immersive” virtual reality projects– writers, cinematographers, editors, and composers, and more. Some of these artists may be future directors, but all are in the pool for future work-to-watch.

Many films that were not able to get full public attention at the 2020 Tribeca Film Festival due to the pandemic are included in this year’s festival; last year I covered features by female filmmakers.

Two women filmmakers were among the five finalists who pitched for the AT& T- sponsored “Untold Stories” $1 million grant. The “Greenlight Committee” included AT&T Chief Marketing and Growth Officer Kellyn Smith Kenny; SVP Equity and Inclusion, WarnerMedia Karen Horne; TV writer/producer Veena Sud; film director Nisha Ganatra; and actor and activist Trace Lysette. While a woman director did not win them over, the fan-voted Fan Favorite award went to Clarissa de los Reyes for Johnny Loves Dolores, to receive an additional $40,000 grant to the $10,000 grant participating director Gabriella A. Moses also receives to develop her film Leche.

Many of the films not already picked up for commercial theatrical or network/platform distribution continue on the festival circuit around the U.S. and world, particularly the shorts. So you will still have opportunities to see these women filmmakers’ work that I will recommend.

All my recommended films in the Festival-- shorts and features, by those who identify as female and others -- are listed at: Mandel Maven's Nest Reel Life: Flick Pix. I will primarily be able to view films available through “Tribeca At Home” Virtual Cinema.

SPECIAL SCREENING
Untitled Dave Chappelle Documentary




NORA EPHRON AWARD-ELIGIBLE: FEATURE NARRATIVE FILMS BY WOMEN WRITER/DIRECTORS AT 2021 TRIBECA FILM FESTIVAL?

as of yet
Glob Lessons
India Sweets and Spices
The Justice of Bunny King
Mark, Mary & Some Other People
The Novice
Perfume De Gardenias
Queen of Glory
Roaring ‘20s


OTHER NARRATIVE FEATURES WRITTEN/DIRECTED BY WOMEN AT 2021 TRIBECA FILM FESTIVAL
The Ballad of a White Cow
How It Ends
Lorelei
No Man Of God
Shapeless
Souad


DOCUMENTARY FEATURES DIRECTED BY WOMEN AT 2021 TRIBECA FILM FESTIVAL
Ailey
Ascension
Being Bebe
Building A Bridge
The Conductor
Lady Boss: The Jackie Collins Story
The Legend of the Underground
Larry Flynt For President
LFG
Mission: Joy - Finding Happiness In Troubled Times
No Ordinary Life
No Straight Lines: The Rise Of Queer Comics
On The Divide
Rita Moreno: Just A Girl Who Decided To Go For It
Sisters on Track
Tigre Gente


SHORTS DIRECTED BY WOMEN AT 2021 TRIBECA FILM FESTIVAL

Narrative Shorts
Ashes
Cherry Lemonade
The Cocktail Party
Coco & Gigi
Cracked
Cupids
Death and the Lady
Esther in Wonderland
Girl With A Thermal Gun
GraceLand
I’m Listening
In The Air
In The Air
Larry & Me
Leap
Liza Anonymous
Magnolia Bloom
Mother
Peninsula
Shell Game
Touching


Documentary Shorts
19 Seventy Free: Part 1
Black Birth
Change The Name
Game Changer
Grottaroli
Miss Panama
Resist: The Resistance Revival Chorus
A Song of Grace
Takeover
Virtual Voice


SPECIAL EVENTS
Tribeca Talks: Gina Prince-Bythewood and Sanaa Lathan
Tribeca Talks: Amy Schumer and Emily Ratajkowski
Tribeca Talks: Shira Haas and Ali Wentworth


EPISODICS: TRIBECA TV
Biography: KISStory
Blindspotting
Conversation with Tina Fey, Meredith Scardino and their collaborators
David Makes Man
Kevin Can F**K Himself
The Mysterious Benedict Society


EPISODICS: N.O.W. (NEW ONLINE WORK) SHOWCASE
Circus Person
if i’m alive next week...
Incarceration Nations
VIRAL


IMMERSIVE: VIRTUAL REALITY
The Changing Scene: Episode 1
A Life in Pieces: The Diary and Letters of Stanley Hayami
Madrid Noir
Marco & Polo Go Round
Mine
Missing Pictures Episode 2: Tsai Ming-liang
The Passengers: The Kid
Rebels


X AWARDS FINALISTS WITH WOMEN DIRECTORS
Chinese New Year - Nian
CURRENT
Dear Future Me
Dear Santa
A Woman’s Place


WOMEN CREW-ED: WITH WOMEN WRITERS, CINEMATOGRAPHERS, EDITORS AND COMPOSERS AT 2021 TRIBECA FILM FESTIVAL

SPECIAL SCREENINGS
In the Heights
No Sudden Move


NARRATIVE FEATURES
7 Days
Asking For It
Brighton 4th
Catch the Fair One
Creation Stories
Dating & New York
Do Not Hesitate
False Positive
Italian Studies
Werewolves Within


DOCUMENTARY FEATURES
Accepted
A-HA The Movie
All These Sons
Blind Ambition
A Choice Of Weapons: Inspired By Gordon Parks
Claydream
Death of My Two Fathers
Father of the Cyborgs
Fathom
Ferguson Rises
The First Step
The Lost Leonardo
The Neutral Ground
North By Current
Paper & Glue
The Phantom
The Price of Freedom
Primera
Roadrunner: A Film About Anthony Bourdain
The Scars of Ali Boulala
Stockholm Syndrome
Wolfgang


SHORTS

Narrative Shorts
Beautiful They
Blush
Enjoy
How To Fall In Love In A Pandemic
Leylak
Navozande, The Musician
Nuts
Pearl and Henry
Silence
Try To Flys


Documentary Shorts
Queen of Basketball
Radical Love


SPECIAL SCREENING

Untitled Dave Chappelle Documentary
Synopsis and Schedule
Co-Director Julia Reichert (World Premiere – Closing Night Gala at Radio City Music Hall)
Not available for me to review.


NORA EPHRON AWARD-ELIGIBLE FILMS BY WOMEN DIRECTORS AT 2021 TRIBECA FILM FESTIVAL?

as of yet


Synopsis and Schedule
Co-Director/Writer/Star: Taylor Garron; Co-Director: Chanel James; Editor: Melissa Kan (USA) (World Premiere in “Viewpoints”/ Juneteenth Program)
2021 Nora Ephron Award
What could have been only a clever gimmick of making a pandemic-limited film with zoom, video selfies, and a few circumscribed exteriors, turns into a funny and moving portrait of navigating race, post-college friendship, family, loneliness, and new romantic relationship, amidst the economic and social anxieties of young New Yorkers during this fraught quarantine. Key is the magnetic Taylor Garron as “Naomi”, who conceived the idea, as encouraged by the Duplass Brothers who came on as executive producers, and is on-screen throughout, assisted by her previous collaborator Chanel James as co-director. The sharp dialogue is completely naturalistic, including her parents playing “Naomi”s parents. A joy to watch, and a clarion call to follow the careers of the team.


Glob Lessons
Synopsis and Schedule
Director/Co-Writer/Editor/Star: Nicole Rodenburg (USA) (World Premiere in “Online”)
This unique road movie was inspired by the co-stars’/co-writers’ real life experiences growing up together as theater geeks in Fargo, North Dakota. “Alan” (Colin Froeber), “Jesse” (Rodenburg) and their story arcs are unpredictable, especially when they are at first more cynical than charming as they drive across the Upper Midwest in winter presenting corny adaptations of classic tales to literally small audiences in schools and libraries, under the aegis of a national touring agency. But as the weather and news from the producing company worsen, the rom com trope that has been set since It Happened One Night (1934) gets peeled to very contemporary and raw revelations about each in surprising ways, for both comic and touching empowerment of friendship.


India Sweets And Spices
Synopsis and Schedule
Director/Writer: Geeta Malik (USA) (World Premiere in “Spotlight Narrative”)
An India-American take on Crazy Rich Asians veers towards sit-com, but is saved, first, by the live-wire performance of Sophia Ali as restless college student high-achiever “Alia”. Second, her summer stay-cation in her family’s wealthy suburban ethnic enclave (portrayed in amusing detail of behaviors and outfits) gets a couple of surprising twists as their lives intersect with those who have taken over the titular Indian food market.


The Justice of Bunny King


Synopsis and Schedule
Director: Gaysorn Thavat; Writer: Sophie Henderson; Cinematographer: Ginny Loane; Editor: Cushla Dillon (New Zealand) (World Premiere in “Viewpoints”)
Special Jury Mention: “to the Cast - Thomasin Mckenzie and Essie Davis, for their outstanding achievement in acting”
Thavat, who self-identifies as “Chinese lesbian film maker”, posted about her feature debut: “Bunny is one of those magnetic, larger than life characters who captures hearts with her indomitable spirit. She is inspired by the multitude of women that I have met over the years, Pakeha, Maori, Pasifika, Asian who carry on holding families and homes together in increasingly difficult circumstances, in punitive systems. The Justice of Bunny King is a love letter to them, because they are everywhere, their courage and strength often unseen, their narratives constantly degraded into victimhood. It's a tough, rewarding film that humanises our housing crisis and turns the spotlight on NZ society. It's taken a long time to bring this film to the screen, but I am glad we persevered, as it is even more urgent now than ever. Essie Davis and Thomasin McKenzie deliver incredible, complex and beautiful performances, as do the entire cast.” Theatrical premiere in New Zealand on July 29.
Thavat’s sensational feature film directorial debut, with her key female crew members, must have provided a supportive environment for an exceptional working-class female-centered story, allowing Australian actress Essie Davis to go all out as the titular single mother vs. the social services bureaucracy (the first among other enemies). Emotionally volcanic after years of fighting back against physical and systemic abuse, “Bunny” exhausts efforts for either making enough money that will provide a safe living space to be reunited with her rebellious teenage daughter “Tonya” (a very sympathetic Thomasin McKenzie) and two younger children, or to at least creatively convince the social workers she has. “Bunny” has run out of patience with people who don’t really listen to her and the system that only sees the “facts” in her file. But she can’t suppress her strong sense of class conscious ethics, even though she only achieves cascading pyrrhic victories when she wears a “magic” thrift shop business suit. As her life spirals out of her control into media attention (and the plot is credible), the film is a strongly empathetic reminder that what makes the news is just the worst moment of the entirety of a woman’s complicated life amid the worst ways society deals with women like “Bunny”.


Mark, Mary & Some Other People


Synopsis and Schedule
Director/Writer: Hannah Marks (USA) (World Premiere in “US Narrative Competition”)
Best Screenplay in a U.S. Narrative Feature Film
Putting aside that the young characters are wincibly naive about relationships, the imbalance in the casting makes the romance and open marriage even less believable. But there are lasting stand-outs in the cast. Hayley Law as “Mary” is charismatic! Whatever her appearances in TV series, she shines here, even making jargon-filled, almost satirically-phrased feminist dialogue passionately convincing. She outshines her partner such that her character’s sexual restlessness is so credible that the audience wonders why she was with “Mark” (Ben Rosenfield) at all. In a secondary role as “Lana” her gay friend/punk bandmate, Odessa A’zion grabs screen attention in loud, yet funny, confrontations, as well as switching to be a warmly supportive gal pal. These outstanding young women make the film worthwhile to start following their careers.


The Novice
Synopsis and Schedule
Director/Writer/Co-Editor: Lauren Hadaway (USA) (World Premiere in U.S. Narrative Competition)
Founders Award for Best U.S. Narrative Feature Film; Best Actress in a U.S. Narrative Feature Film: Isabelle Furman; Best Cinematography in a U.S. Narrative Feature Film: Todd Martin
If the “Tribeca/ESPN Sports Film Festival” had continued this year, The Novice would be a vivid but unusual entry, an exception to the feel-good, underdog or champion tribute usually selected. Because “Alex Dall” (as fiercely portrayed by new-to-me Isabelle Furman because I haven’t seen her previous horror films) forces herself, first, to be an athlete, then not just on the freshman women’s rowing team, but on top to qualify for the varsity team, with the prize of a scholarship (that she may not even need). She deeply resents those Beautiful People, like her teammate “Jamie” (Amy Forsyth), who seem to do everything so easily. (Aren’t they always blondes?) “Alex” barely has time and strength to also fit in a liberating affair with “Dani” the Most Gorgeous and Sexiest Math Teaching Assistant On Campus Ever (Dilone is a model). Because she’s driven to prove she can be the best in any endeavor she takes on, including academic subjects she’s not even interested in, competitive collegiate sports matches her neurosis (or whatever diagnosis). Debut filmmaker Lauren Hadaway capitalizes on her years as a sound editor (including on Quentin Tarantino’s The Hateful Eight in 2015) to viscerally immerse the audience in the physical and emotional feel of the experiences that obsessed her over four years in college, calling the film “my catharsis”. I wasn’t sure if my hands hurt in sympathetic oar-pushing pain or from gripping them in tension. While she compares this film to her torment inspirations Darren Aronofsky’s Black Swan (2010) and Damien Chazelle’s Whiplash (2014 - that she was key as the sound editor), I was reminded of Tony Richardson’s sports-related, but also so much more The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner (1962). The Novice could be such a classic, too.


Perfume De Gardenias
Synopsis and Schedule
Director/Writer: Macha Colón/Gisela Rosario Ramos (Puerto Rico, Colombia ) (World Premiere in “Viewpoints”)
When director Macha Colón performs, she is Gisela Rosario Ramos “an un-disciplinary Afroqueer artist obsessed with finding new ways of making my art more inclusive from a queer perspective”. Her debut feature eschews direct politics for a humorous and ironic tribute to her mother’s generation of caregiving women in middle-class Puerto Rico. Octogenarian theater and television actress Luz María Rondón in her first movie-starring role as “Isabel” anchors the film as a sudden widow, sudden because she was so used to her cleaning, cooking, and gardening routine around the house she hadn’t realized her incapacitated husband had died. At loose ends, she puts her energy into preparing his funeral, decorated with his memorabilia and her very creative flower arrangements. Religious services are the main entertainment for most of her elderly friends in the neighborhood, so her event is a big hit. Usually circumspect, other than chiding the rebellious lady down the block for the parade of young women leaving her house each morning, she’s soon in great demand to stage other memorials, with more of the seniors enthusiastically joining in. The leading busybody Toña (Sharon Riley) keeps pushing them to take this new activity further, with ever imaginative results in Fellini-esque images and tweaks of Catholic traditions. Like last year’s Chilean Oscar nominee The Mole Agent, this Puerto Rican gem is also lovely recognition of the inevitability of death without giving up on life.


Queen of Glory
Synopsis and Schedule
Director/Writer/Star Nana Mensah; Cinematographer Cybel Martin (USA) (World Premiere in US Narrative Competition/Juneteenth Program)
Magnolia Pictures acquired the international and domestic sales rights.
Special Jury Prize for Artistic Expression: “for opening audiences up to an intimate and personal story, exploring cultural identity and family, with delicate nuance and humor and heart.”; Best New Narrative Director
There are a few examples in American movies of the assimilated daughter returning to her immigrant family home and neighborhood, from The Farmer’s Daughter (1947) to My Big Fat Greek Wedding (2002). Actress Mensah with her debut as a feature filmmaker diversifies and updates the genre by bringing Sarah Obeng from her Ivy League research lab at Columbia back uptown on the subway to Pelham Parkway in The Bronx. The PhD candidate has to plan her mother’s funeral, as demanded by her extended Ghanaian family in the U.S. and abroad. While she’s anxious to join her married lover leaving for a position in Ohio, there are rituals and traditional foods to prepare, and arrangements to sell her mother’s house and business, the titular Christian bookstore. Filmed in Mensah’s old neighborhood, the quirky characters are entertaining, including her father Godwin (Oberon Adjepong), who settles in like the patriarch though he has been living in Ghana for years; a sweet ex-con store employee “Pitt” (Meeko Gattuso); and maternal Russian next-door neighbor - Anya Migdal also became one of the film’s producers. (The guy selling DVDs outside with a spiel seems like a nod to a Spike Lee movie.) Though Sarah’s trajectory in re-discovering the support and warmth of her culture is somewhat predictable (albeit without the typical romance), seeing her blossom on screen into her true self looks distinctive and feels very satisfying.


Roaring 20s (Années 20)
Synopsis and Schedule
Director/Co-Writer/Cinematographer: Elisabeth Vogler; Co-Writer: Noémie Schmidt (France) (World Premiere in “International Narrative Competition”)
Best Cinematography in an International Narrative Feature Film; Special Jury Mention: “Cast ensemble for their characters and dialogue both written and improvised seamlessly that provide a portrait timeless and true.”
This re-plays a familiar genre of following different people as they happen to cross paths, without any back-story pay-off of discovering relationships. The film pretty much only provides enjoyable views from walking around different Parisian neighborhoods, and a few entertaining vignettes charming actors.


OTHER NARRATIVE FEATURES DIRECTED BY WOMEN AT 2021 TRIBECA FILM FESTIVAL

The Ballad of a White Cow
Synopsis and Schedule
Co-Director/Co-Writer/Star: Maryam Moghaddam (France, Iran) (North American Premiere in “Critics’ Week”)
Where the recent There Is No Evil (Sheytan vojud nadarad) looked at the political and psychological impact of Iran’s brutal capital punishment system on the soldiers forced to implement the assembly-line executions, this gripping drama presents the stories of two others caught up in the brusque legal system: a working-class widow of a wrongfully convicted defendant and a new criminal court judge reeling from his first death penalty case. Neither are activists nor rebels, just human Muslims. The premise is oppressively sad (she even has a deaf child), but tensions ratchet up from increasing social, economic, and family pressures.
Frustrated by the rigid bureaucracy, the unfairly bereft mother “Mina” (played by Moghaddam, who was inspired by her mother’s experiences) demands a formal government apology. When “Reza” the judge (Alireza Sani Far) awkwardly tries to help her (without admitting his responsibility), his presence in her life sets off gossipy neighbors, her landlord, her greedy in-laws, her daughter’s teachers, and her dairy employer. (The titular metaphor about a cow, milk. and the Koran is lost on those not familiar with Persian literature.) Step by subtle step, without flashy fireworks, but plenty of stress, her action may be a metaphor for how everyday citizens cope with the corrupt Iranian system.


How It Ends
Synopsis and Schedule
Co-Director/Co-Writer/Star: Zoe Lister-Jones; Co-Editor: Libby Cuenin (USA) (New York Premiere in “Spotlight Narrative”)
American International Pictures/ MGM release on digital platforms and in select theaters July 20
As a comet approaches earth, It’s-The-End-of-the World-as-We-Know-It-and-I-Feel-Fine to go to a party. App entrepreneur “Liza” (Zoe Lister-Jones) walks (!) through Los Angeles and stops by the people from her life, accompanied by her younger self (Cailee Spaeny) to face her regrets. “Liza” knew a lot of celebrities to play amusing cameos, including: Fred Armisen, Whitney Cummings, Colin Hanks, Helen Hunt, Nick Kroll, Logan Marshall Green, Pauly Shore, Sharon Van Etten, Bradley Whitford, Olivia Wilde, and the cast of It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia. Before the credits close with “Shot on location in Los Angeles, made with love during the 2020 Pandemic”, the Younger “Liza” hopes until the end for a romantic conclusion, while the adult at least gets to apologize to the Love of the Her Life. Otherwise the revelations are all for mild humor, with very little insight.


Lorelei
Synopsis and Schedule
Director/Writer/Star: Sabrina Doyle (USA) (North American Premiere in “Features”)
Vertical Entertainment release on digital platforms and in select theaters July 30, 2021

No Man of God
Director Amber Sealey; Cinematographer: Karina Silva; Composer: Clarice Jensen (USA) (World Premiere in “Spotlight Narrative”)
Synopsis and Schedule
RLJE Films will release August 27, 2021 in Theaters, On Demand and on Digital platforms.
The dialogue is based on the recordings FBI agent Bill Hagmaier (played by Elijah Wood) made while interviewing Ted Bundy (played by Luke Kirby), the notorious rapist and murderer of something like 30 women, between 1984 and 1989 up to his execution in Florida. There have been several TV movies, and “true crime” TV episodes about the case (including Joe Berlinger’s 2019 Neflix series Conversations with a Killer: The Ted Bundy Tapes, with a journalist’s recordings of his interviews.) While Hagmaier’s assigned goal was to get the death row inmate to describe where more of his victims were, this version focuses on how Hagmaier used the insights from gaining his trust to move forward the field of profiling. With fast fantasy montages implying the associations within each of their minds, the emphasis is on the agent’s realization of how little separates him from the proud Bundy’s violent depravity. It’s an ironic relief that a male FBI profiler can be portrayed without the sexual abuse of female profilers shown in fiction, notably in the 1991 film adaptation of Thomas Harris’s novel of Silence of the Lambs and the just-completed CBS-TV series follow-up Clarice (co-created by Jenny Lumet).


Shapeless


Synopsis and Schedule
Director: Samantha Aldana; Co-Writer/Star: Kelly Murtagh; Composer: Mandy Hoffman; Director of Photography: Natalie Kingston (USA) (World Premiere in “Midnight”)
Despite the “genre” section slot, this is a viscerally effective view of the descent into eating disorders, such as bulimia, as inspired by the personal experiences of Murtagh. Her primarily female team spent almost a year to fully understand the condition, and the visuals and sound design, amplified by the night-time in New Orleans setting, really help the audience get inside the head of this crippling mental illness that can usually only be “seen” by increasing thinness and regurgitation.


Souad
Synopsis and Schedule
Director/Co-Writer: Ayten Amin (Egypt, Tunisia, Germany) (International Premiere in “International Narrative Competition”)
Best Actress in an International Narrative Feature Film: Bassant Ahmed & Basmala Elghaiesh
Teenagers use of social media in the U.S. is so fraught with risk from bullying, censure, and abuse that the Supreme Court had to just declare it is a free speech zone. For young women in Egypt living in conservative communities far from Cairo, social media gives them a liberated avatar who can lead the alternative lives they can’t. For her second film, Egyptian filmmaker Ayten Amin spent over two years auditioning over 250 by talking to them about what they do online. She used their experiences to improvise the details around her story of two sisters in a small city on the Nile Delta that is as engrossing as it is disconcerting.
”Souad” (Bassant Ahmed) is a lively 19-year-old who creates fictional personas for herself that she talks about as if they are real, including sending flirtatious sexts to “Ahmed” (Hussein Ghanem) who she calls her boyfriend in Alexandria, among other stories she weaves about him. It takes the viewer a little while to realize she’s a fabulist online to compensate for her overwhelmingly depressing options at home. But her little sister “Rabab” (Basmala Elghaiesh) is fascinated by ”Souad”s phone as a gateway to another world, just when at 12-years-old she is expected to wear the hijab. In the second half of the film, “Rabab” follows the texts like taking the Yellow Brick Road to Oz.
In the city, “Ahmed” is as handsome as his photo, but his application of his college education is considerably less intellectual than his family’s middle-class traditions, let alone those who used social media to help spark the (brief) revolution, like co-writer Mahmoud Ezzat. Especially considering all are nonprofessional actors, the tension mounts uncomfortably (and starts to drag on) between just how naïve the working-class girls are, in terms of how Americans view such online activities, and how far “Ahmed” will play along In Real Life. Without exotic-izing Arab culture, the audience gains the insight to infer that the opprobrium they could face from both levels of their society could be worse than other dangers.


DOCUMENTARY FEATURES DIRECTED BY WOMEN AT 2021 TRIBECA FILM FESTIVAL


Ailey
Synopsis and Schedule
Director: Jamila Wignot; Cinematographer: Naiti Gámez; Editor: Annukka Lilja; Archival Producer: Rebecca Kent (USA) (New York Premiere in “Critics’ Week” /Juneteenth Program)
NEON release July 16 in theaters and digital platforms; eventually on PBS American Masters
An intensely intimate chronological biography of African-American dance innovator Alvin Ailey is intertwined with verité footage of Rennie Harris developing, choreographing, and rehearsing a tribute to his life and art on his company’s dancers. While the source of the audio of Ailey talking quite frankly about his early life in Texas, his mother, and getting to Los Angeles to discover role models Katherine Dunham and Lester Horton is not identified while accompanied with period and personal stills and footage, the archival search found the television programs that featured modern dance to be able to see him dance as a young man, even if originally on grainy black and white kinescope. The clips from his iconic dances, annotated by the dancers they were created on, are thrilling. While I was surprised how little Carmen de Lavallade is asked about their youth together, compared to how much she revealed about him in her bio-doc Carmen & Geoffrey (2005), other dancers with personal experiences do talk; many anguish that they couldn’t help him more as he faced the hidden stress of being a gay Black man up through Reagan’s America, particularly as he faced AIDS.


Ascension
Synopsis and Schedule
Director/Editor/Co-Cinematographer: Jessica Kingdon (USA) (World Premiere in “Documentary Competition”)
Best Documentary Feature 2021; Albert Maysles Award for Best New Documentary Director
Many documentaries over the past 15 years (including ones that debuted at Tribeca) have looked separately at the human, social, and environmental toll and potential of China’s complex rise to dominance in: manufacturing -- Manufactured Landscapes (Jennifer Baichwal, 2006), Smog Town (Meng Han, 2019); mining -- Behemoth (Zhao Liang, 2015); developing capitalist services -- Up The Yangtze (Yung Chang, 2007), People’s Republic of Desire (Hao Wu, 2018); becoming a market for consumer luxuries -- Red Obsession (Ross and Roach, 2013), Yellow Is Forbidden (Pietra Brettkelly, 2018); and even recycling - Plastic China (Jiuliang Wang, 2016), plus the independent investigations distributed by dGenerate Films. Kingdon’s debut feature combines all these elements and passively observes their impact across the economy and class structure in President Xi Jinping’s drive to make China a superpower’s “Great Wall of steel built from the flesh and blood of 1.4 billion Chinese people”, as he declared at the centennial of the Communist Party. He’s not the first - the title comes from an ironic poem that her great-grandfather wrote in 1912, just after the fall of the Qing empire.
Kingdon sees a parallel to the U.S. as “the Chinese Dream”. With no commentary, viewers make their own interpretations of what is happening at 51 places across the country, that are confusingly not identified until the closing credits. Everyone in the cities seems lured onto a mass-production assembly line (literally and figuratively), small business or large, bending everybody to mass definitions of success. A work-place respite where employees actually talk to each other and encourage skills turns out to be making sex dolls for Westerners. While the political crackdown on wealthy elites and dissent is not seen, the opening scene with big screens spotlighting pedestrian behaviors implies that the party is always watching and setting boundaries.


Being Bebe
Synopsis and Schedule
Director/Co-Writer: Emily Branham; Composer: Helene Faussart (Les Nubians) (USA, Cameroon) (World Premiere in “Online”)
Not available for me to review


Building A Bridge
Synopsis and Schedule
Co-Director: Shannon Post; Co-Editor: Ellen Knechel (USA) (World Premiere in “Viewpoints”)
Not available for me to review


The Conductor
Synopsis and Schedule
Director/Co-Writer: Bernadette Wegenstein; Co-Cinematographers: Shana Hagan and Judith Benedikt (USA) (World Premiere in “Viewpoints”)
The steely determination Marin Alsop needed to break the highest glass ceilings in classical music comes through more than anything else in this approved bio-doc that’s full of rare photographs, memorabilia and footage, much probably from her personal archive. Her emotional connection to wanting to be a conductor is seen in the repetition of re-enactment of her nine-year-old self in 1965 fascinated by the Maestro at one of Leonard Bernstein’s Young People’s concerts. Her violin teacher’s peremptory “Girls can’t do that” was buttressed by rejection from Julliard’s conducting program in 1980. Yet her busy musician parents encouraged her with scores and batons; she briefly waxes nostalgic in front of Upper West Side apartments of her beloved babysitter and her struggling career days. She pushed on for almost a decade to land two crucial career mentors: Japanese textile mogul Tomio Taki as a continuing patron and Bernstein himself, at Tanglewood, on tour, and beyond. The rest of her story is a dizzying array of firsts for a female, climbing to the heights of orchestral leadership across the U.S. and Europe; the camera spends time with her in Baltimore, Såo Paolo and Vienna, and as she mentors the next generation, inlcuding online during the pandemic. Her personal life is glimpsed vaguely - her wife settled somewhere amidst her peripatetic career; graveside Alsop recalls cancelling her schedule for her mother’s last weeks. Until Alsop put rocks on their gravestones, there was no indication her parents were Jewish, but that was enough for this month’s West Coast premiere at the San Francisco Jewish Film Festival.


Lady Boss: The Jackie Collins Story
Synopsis and Schedule
Director: Laura Fairrie; Cinematographer: Lynda Hall (UK) (World Premiere in “Documentary Spotlight”)
Premiere on CNN June 27
For people who never heard of British-born Jackie Collins or didn’t read any of her 32 novels that sold 500 million copies in 40 countries around the world, from 1968 –2015, there’s entertainment value in time-traveling through what is presented as her “1980s feminism” of a kind of sexual freedom. As a teen, Fairrie admired her “outrageously sexy books” and her image as “a powerful woman with big hair, plunging cleavage and leopard-print shoulder pads.”… Jackie Collins has often been dismissed as the ‘queen of sleaze’ but this ignores the fact that she consistently wrote female characters that unapologetically demand the careers and lives and sex that they want. Her brand of feminism was about sexual freedom and she wrote about female desire in a way that was bold and ahead of its time. Her books were risqué, they were outrageous and they turned the tables on men.” If so, does anyone read them anymore?
Her books also provided movie and TV adaptation vehicles for her older sister Joan, and their close and competitive relationship is explored, though confusingly not chronological, from childhood with their parents on. (There’s lots of home movie footage.) Joan provided Jackie entrée to the Hollywood and Tinsel Town-type scenes that became fodder for her books – based on detailed diary notes that Jackie used for direct inspiration, as seen on screen. Her many “best friends”, who carefully dressed themselves up for the interview film shoots, all enthuse about her, while people in business with her provide some down-to-earth facts. While all pretty much agree that her image on the book jackets and talk shows was carefully crafted as a marketing ploy, the real person is more intriguing. Of her three husbands, one was supportive and encouraging of her career, the much older nightclub owner Oscar Lerman, father of two of her three daughters, the other two were domineering and abusive, and the documentary struggles to explain those relationships that were like her downtrodden mother’s, even with the family making available her unpublished autobiography. Let alone that she witnessed her mother’s struggle and death from breast cancer, yet did not take better care of herself, leaving instead a “Last Letter to Readers” urging them to get mammograms, when her diagnosis was finally revealed. Jackie would probably have loved all this attention.


Larry Flynt For President
Synopsis and Schedule
Director/Co-Writer: Nadia Szold; Co-Director of Photography: Larissa Supplitt; Co-Composer: Maia Ibar (USA) (World Premiere)
FilmNation Entertainment

The Legend of the Underground
Synopsis and Schedule
Co-Directors: Giselle Bailey and Nneka Onuorah; Editor: Rabab Haj Yahya (Nigeria, USA) (World Premiere in “Viewpoints”/ Juneteenth Program)
On HBO and HBOMAX as of June 29
This intimate look at the persecution of gay men in Nigeria shows the personal toll of the country’s rampant homophobia and the government’s arbitrary crackdowns on men appearing effeminate in any activity. In Lagos, the directors focus on a group of 57 young men rounded up at a party in 2018, forced to do the perp walk, and left in tense legal limbo, with montages of the negative coverage. One in particular, promoted as James Brown, uses the notoriety to challenge norms on social media and promote freedom to be themselves. James becomes a lightning rod for discussions within the diverse group about stereotypes and prompts tearful confessions on how their families’ rejections pushed them into risky behaviors. From the Nigerian diaspora in New York, activist Micheal Ighodaro reaches out to offer help through the difficult asylum process, as they agonize whether to stay and confront the institutional discrimination and personal threats, or, as he did, leave before harassment escalates into worse violence. Neither option is easy, especially for people who were just living their lives before being forced into prominence.


LFG
Synopsis and Schedule
Co-Director/Writer: Andrea Nix Fine (USA) (World Premiere in “Spotlight Documentary”)
Streaming on HBOMAX as of June 24/ premieres on CNN September 6
In documenting the U.S. Women's National Soccer Team’s gender discrimination lawsuit from its filing in 2019 against the U.S. Soccer Federation (which refused interviews), before the World Cup, the Fines smoothly combine the confident players (current and past) talking face-to-the-camera of their lives and goals for equal pay, with sports footage of their powerful athletic prowess in winning games, news coverage of deftly handled celebrations and press conferences amidst quick montages of historical feminists. With their signature verité style, since War/Dance (2007), the Fines follow purple-haired Megan Rapinoe as she marshals public support through TV appearances and autograph signings for little girls, and Jessica McDonald (the only Black player and the only mother in the film) as she bids farewell to her young son to “go to work”-- leaving for training. The players’ solidarity is palpable, even after long depositions. For the audience, the legal issues are reinforced with animated words and charts comparing the men’s and women’s teams’ games played and money earned, facts the opposing law firm and judge apparently ignored. Even during the pandemic, emotions run high on Zoom meetings and videos, as fan chants for “Equal Pay!” surpass the team’s titular rallying cry “Let’s F*** Go!”.


Like A Rolling Stone: The Life & Times Of Ben Fong-Torres
Synopsis and Schedule
Director/Writer: Suzanne Joe Kai (USA) (World Premiere in “Documentary Competition”)
Not available for me to review


Mission: Joy - Finding Happiness In Troubled Times
Synopsis and Schedule
Co-Director: Peggy Callahan (USA) (World Premiere in “Online”)
Not available for me to review


No Ordinary Life
Synopsis and Schedule
Director: Heather O’Neill (USA) (World Premiere in “Online”)
For years we’ve seen searing images from wars and crises around the world, without knowing that not all were taken by men. Key photographs and footage from hot spots around the world were generated by four American frontline camera women and a Kiwi: Jane Evans, Maria Fleet, Mary Rogers, Cynde Strand, and the late Margaret Moth from New Zealand. This documentary includes extensive interviews with/about them, while seeing their work, from Sarajevo as Yugoslavia and the Soviet Union broke up, to Middle East wars, and protests and humanitarian disasters around the globe. However, for all the time spent on facing misogyny with female solidarity, and credit for changing storytelling, debut director O’Neill doesn’t press them on other issues. While the photographers were not identified frequently enough, at least one denied being an “adrenaline-junkie. It’s not all bang-bang for me.” Which draws up comparisons to the male South African photojournalists known in book and feature film as The Bang Bang Club (2011). While one of the women is particularly proud of bringing attention to the impact of famine on children in Africa, it was intensely criticized images from that specific horror that was generally blamed on the descent of one guilt-filled member of “The Club” into addiction and suicide. The line between these photographers/photojournalists and journalists is not clear here, especially with the extensive participation of broadcast journalist Christiane Amanpour and references to war journalist Marie Colvin, whose career has been covered in documentaries (Bearing Witness - 2005; Under the Wire - 2018) and feature film (A Private War - 2018). (I was also thinking of Elizabeth Becker’s recent book You Don't Belong Here: How Three Women Rewrote the Story of War.)
Most emotional are when the women discuss the impact of their unusual career on their personal lives, and the choices they have made to bring back balance, from working behind the scenes as producers, having a child, or traveling for pleasure. Others do continue in the field, with the conclusion: “This film is dedicated to Margaret Moth and all journalists who continue to put their lives on the line, in the pursuit of truth.” The Committee to Protect Journalists reports eight killed so far this year alone.


No Straight Lines: The Rise Of Queer Comics
Synopsis and Schedule
Director: Vivian Kleiman; Editors: Christiane Badgley and Linda Peckham (USA) (World Premiere in “Movies Plus”)
Following the June 12 premiere screening was a panel with featured cartoonists, Kleiman, and LGBTQ comics historian Justin Hall.
Chronological, informative documentary (there’s several academic and historian advisors) features extended interviews with major male and female cartoonists – their inspirations and career paths, while younger generations comment on discovering their work. Even though underground comics were challenging retail censorship through the 1960s, it wasn’t until 1973 that the first comic book was published about a gay subject by an out queer artist in the U.S. when Mary Wings created Come Out Comix, with DIY determination.
More extensive interviews follow with soft-spoken, Southern artist Howard Cruse, about his own work and being encouraged in 1980 to come out in order to edit and publish collections of gay cartoonists through Gay Comix. He then expands on how Art Spiegelman’s Maus inspired him to put in the artistic and financial toil to produce Stuck Rubber Baby (1995), his own autobiographical magnum opus large-print graphic novel, on the intersection of being gay during the civil rights movement. (He died soon after these filming these remembrances.) Also revealing is Rupert Kinnard’s parallel journey from drawing white superheroes to expressing his own identity through the first queer African-American comic character “The Brown Bomber”, from college to commercial success. After a serious car accident left him in a wheelchair, he proudly shows the string of drawn appreciations to him organized by the best known cartoonist in the film, multi-award-winning Alison Bechdel. Both men also reflect on the support of long-term relationships for their work and in dealing with their families. Other cartoonists, particularly younger ones, show the ranges of explicit sexuality queer artists now consider, and how they express aspects of their identity. The drawings are not suped-up into animation, but amusing sound effects are added. Not just for nostalgists, this entertaining and sensitive film brings these creators to even wider audiences.


On The Divide
Synopsis and Schedule
Directors: Maya Cueva and Leah Galant; Co-Cinematographer: Leah Galant; Editor: Berenice Chávez; Co-Composer: Judy Hyman (USA) (World Premiere in “Documentary Competition”)
Premieres on PBS POV Spring 2022

Rita Moreno: Just A Girl Who Decided To Go For It
Synopsis and Schedule
Director/Co-Editor: Mariem Pérez Riera (USA) (New York Premiere in “Critics’ Week”)
Roadside Attractions release in theaters June 18, eventually on PBS American Masters
Rita Moreno is refreshingly frank about her biography and 70+ year career – as a Puerto Rican and a woman in Hollywood, as the camera follows her through her homes, dressing rooms and make-up tables. The clips from “Rosita”s contract work in “the pictures” are racist revelations in the number and continuing stereotypes she had to portray from 1950 on as “the dusky maiden”, the indigenous, sexy “other” lover, including in The King and I (1956) role that Yul Brynner warned her was “boring”. (The young, inner “Rosita” is effectively symbolized throughout by animated 1940s paper dolls.) Filmed while watching Judge Brett Kavanaugh’s accuser bravely testify at his confirmation hearing, she is explicit on her own #MeToo experiences with the off-screen lechery, abuse, and domination to which she was subjected by men. There’s clips of talks she’s given on her fraught background, accompanied by sprightly Latin songs, including several by her.
Taking the title from her favorite T-shirt, Moreno proudly accounts her re-inventions for her amazing career longevity and breadth in entertainment to earn her the rare EGOT (Emmy, Grammy, Oscar, Tony) Awards (as seen in clips of iconic roles that she notes did not bring her more diverse work). She highly recommends therapy to ground oneself through crises, while her daughter (and now performance collaborator) feels her mother’s decades of activism for women’s rights channels her fury against personal and artistic oppression. Despite the imprimatur of the gloss-over American Masters series with the usual piling-on-praise not necessarily illuminating interviews, Moreno’s energy and optimism are so wonderful that it is hard to believe she is almost 90!


Sisters on Track
Synopsis and Schedule
Directors: Corinne van der Borch and Tone Grøttjord-Glenne; Co-Cinematographer: Corinne van der Borch; Co-Editor: Cheree Dillon (USA) (North American Premiere in “Online”)
Netflix release on June 24.
The three Sheppard sisters, Tai (12), Rainn (11) and Brooke (9) start the film as the 2016 “SportsKids of the Year” on the cover of Sports Illustrated. Already media darlings for their running success in the Junior Olympics, their mother Tonia Handy’s struggles with tragedy and eviction from their Bed-Stuy apartment into a homeless shelter touches heart strings, including of philanthropist Tyler Perry, who provides them with a place to live and rent for two years. (Much as he helped the Duke and Duchess of Sussex.) But as the sensitive directors follow them over the next three years of maturation, challenges, and pressures in athletics and school, particularly on obtaining scholarships, the star becomes their charismatic volunteer Coach Jean Bell of the Jeuness Track Club she founded in Brooklyn. Protecting all her African-American protégés from the streets and destructive attitudes to literally keep their feet moving over the ground, she’s a disciplinarian, but also a wise discerner of “teen-age blues” heading into high school, and how to frankly cope, as the world keeps trying to knock them down. While their running continues to develop, the competitions feature less than in most sports documentaries as these intimate interactions are so absorbing. Coach Bell’s inspirational, yet practical, approach is being carried on with the film’s Social Impact Campaign through “Three Lanes: Mentorship, Education and Athletics”. Hopefully, this verité encomium will attract more philanthropists to Ball’s model program.


Tigre Gente
Synopsis and Schedule
Director: Elizabeth Unger; Co-Editor: Jill Schweitzer (USA) (World Premiere in “Online”)
Best documentary I saw at this year’s Tribeca Fest! Informative, involving, and impactful! Unger’s five years of commitment to document a key case of wildlife preservation in South America and the dedicated people who work hard to protect them, in the wild and against the illegal market, results in a thrilling and revealing chain of on-camera events.
Charismatic Marcos Uzquiano, Director of the Madidi National Park, in the upper Amazon river basin of Bolivia, intensely describes how he has felt a special connection to the jaguars there since he was a boy. (His elderly mom concurs.) We see him take it personally that they have been hunted, disrupting the ecosystem balance. Boating far along rivers, he’s instructive to the indigenous tribes living in the area, so they give him more and more clues that outside forces are at work in the killings. Even though he can’t match hunters’ speedboats (Unger is along for the chase), he is a canny detective hot on their trail, and finds that the farther away he gets from his ranger stations, the more brazen “foreign” buyers have been on local radio stations, offering ever higher prices for just a particular part of the jaguars: their teeth. In a suspenseful undercover operation, he tracks down the town’s ad sponsors to a surprising source that seems innocuous in its ubiquity.
Moving over to the other side of the world, this documentary becomes the most effective since The Last Animals (2017) in exposing the ultimate buyers in the illegal marketplaces (including with a hidden camera). Hong Kong journalist Laurel Chor goes further, frankly but sensitively, including interviewing her own family, in trying to understand how ancient Chinese homeopathic and folkloric traditions can propel modern demand. The globalism linkage between myths now powered by economic power and the destructive reality of what is happening in the Bolivian forests is fascinating.


SHORTS

Narrative Shorts

Ashes
Synopsis and Schedule
Director/Writer/Cinematographer/Editor: Joanna Dudek (Poland) (World Premiere in “Animated Shorts Curated by Whoopi G”)
Not available for me to review


Cherry Lemonade
Synopsis and Schedule
Director/Writer: Aisha Ford; Cinematographer: Angie Sciulli; Composer: Marianthe Bezzerides (USA) (World Premiere in “Shining Stars/Online”/ Juneteenth Program)

The Cocktail Party
Synopsis and Schedule
Director/Writer/Cinematographer/Editor: Joanna Dudek (USA) (World Premiere in “Straight Up With A Twist”)
Not available for me to review


Coco & Gigi
Synopsis and Schedule
Director/Writer: Rosie Perez (USA) (World Premiere in WITH/IN Vol. 1 in “Movies Plus”)
Not available for me to review


Cracked
Synopsis and Schedule
Director/Writer/Co-Editor: Lin Que Ayoung; Cinematographer: Lorena Duran (USA) (World Premiere in “New York New York 2021”)
Not available for me to review


Cupids
Synopsis and Schedule
Director/Co-Writer: Zoey Martinson; Co-Writer: Julie Sharbutt (USA) (World Premiere in “8:46 Films: Saturday Morning”)
Not available for me to review


Death and the Lady
Synopsis and Schedule
Co-Director/Co-Writer: Lucy Struever (USA) (World Premiere in “Animated Shorts Curated by Whoopi G”)
Not available for me to review


Esther in Wonderland
Synopsis and Schedule
Director/Co-Writer: Stephanie Bollag; Co-Writer: Lily Lyor Askenazi; Cinematographer: Zamarin Wahdat; Composer: Shruti Kumar (USA, Switzerland) (World Premiere in “New York 2021”)
My review forthcoming


Girl With A Thermal Gun
Synopsis and Schedule
Director/Writer: Rongfei Guo; Cinematographer: Cecile Zhang; Editor: Zhang JIngyi (China) (North American Premiere in “Straight Up With A Twist”)
Best Narrative Short Award
Not available for me to review


GraceLand
Synopsis and Schedule
Director/Co-Writer: Bonnie Discepolo; Cinematographer: Zelmira Gainza (USA) (New York Premiere in “Pursuing Happiness”)
Not available for me to review


I’m Listening
Synopsis and Schedule
Director: Mickey Sumner; Co-Writer: Portia Alen-Buckley (USA) (World Premiere in WITH/IN Vol. 2 in “Movies Plus”)
Not available for me to review


In The Air
Synopsis and Schedule
Co-Director/Co-Writer: Elizabeth Marvel (USA) (World Premiere in WITH/IN Vol. 2 in “Movies Plus”)
Not available for me to review


Larry & Me
Synopsis and Schedule
Director: Lisa Melmed (USA) (World Premiere in “Online”)

Leaf Boat
Synopsis and Schedule
Director/Writer: Efa Blosse-Mason; Editor: Caroline Lynch-Blosse; Composer: Casi Wyn (Wales) (New York Premiere in “Animated Shorts Curated by Whoopi G”)
Not available for me to review


Leap
Synopsis and Schedule
Director: Sanaa Lathan; Writer: Margaret Nagle (USA) (World Premiere in WITH/IN Vol. 1 in “Movies Plus”)
Not available for me to review


Liza Anonymous
Synopsis and Schedule
Director: Aubrey Smyth; Writer: Leah McKendrick; Director of Photography: Chloe Smolkin; Editor: Samantha Smith; Composer: Joanna Katcher (USA) (World Premiere in “New York New York 2021”)
Not available for me to review


Magnolia Bloom
Synopsis and Schedule
Director: Tayo Amos (USA) (World Premiere in “Pursuing Happiness” and “Shining Stars”)
Not available for me to review


Mother
Synopsis and Schedule
Co-Director/Co-Writer: Maya Singer (USA) (World Premiere in WITH/IN Vol. 1 in “Movies Plus”)
Not available for me to review


Peninsula
Synopsis and Schedule
Director: Fiona McKenzie (New Zealand) (World Premiere in “Let’s Fly Away”)
Not available for me to review


Shell Game
Synopsis and Schedule
Director/Writer: Gina Gershon (USA) (World Premiere in WITH/IN Vol. 2 in “Movies Plus”)
Not available for me to review


Touching
Synopsis and Schedule
Co-Director/Co-Writer: Julianne Nicholson (USA) (World Premiere in WITH/IN Vol. 2 in “Movies Plus”)
Not available for me to review


Documentary Shorts

19 Seventy Free: Part 1
Synopsis and Schedule
Co-Director/Co-Writer/Co-Cinematographer/Editor: AmaYah Harrison (USA) (World Premiere in “Art and Soul” and “Shining Stars”)
Not available for me to review


Black Birth
Synopsis and Schedule
Director: Haimy Assefa; Co-Cinematographer: Nora Ballard ; Editor: Yaara Sumeruk (USA) (World Premiere in “Queen Collective”/ Juneteenth Program)
Not available for me to review


Change The Name
Synopsis and Schedule
Director/Co-Cinematographer: Cai Thomas; Editor: Paloma Martinez (USA) (World Premiere in “Queen Collective”/ Juneteenth Program)
Not available for me to review


Game Changer
Synopsis and Schedule
Director: Tina Charles (USA) (World Premiere in “Queen Collective”/ Juneteenth Program)
Not available for me to review


Grottaroli
Synopsis and Schedule
Co-Director/Co-Writer/Co-Editor: Cecilia Pignocchi (Italy, Netherlands) (World Premiere in “Let’s Fly Away”)
Not available for me to review


Miss Panama
Synopsis and Schedule
Co-Directors: Lamar Bailey Karamañites and Pascale Boucicaut; Co-Cinematographer: Rashid Zakat; Co-Editor: Melina Tupa; Original Songs: Mai-Elka Prado Gil (USA) (World Premiere in “Acting Out”)
Topic will stream.

Resist: The Resistance Revival Chorus
Synopsis and Schedule
Director/Writer: Susan O’Brien; Cinematographer: Daisy Zhou, Allie Schultz, and Susan O'Brien; Editor: Kallie Billadeau (USA) (World Premiere in “Art and Soul”)
Not available for me to review


A Song of Grace
Synopsis and Schedule
Director: Arielle Knight (USA) (World Premiere in “Acting Count”)
Not available for me to review


Takeover
Synopsis and Schedule
Director/Co-writer: Emma Francis-Snyder; Cinematographers: Tine DiLucia and Nicole Velez (USA) (World Premiere)
Not available for me to review


Virtual Voice
Synopsis and Schedule
Director: Suzannah Mirghani (Sudan, Qatar) (World Premiere in “Acting Out”)
Not available for me to review


WOMEN CREW-ED: FILMS BY WOMEN WRITERS, CINEMATOGRAPHERS, EDITORS AND COMPOSERS AT 2021TRIBECA FILM FESTIVAL

SPECIAL SCREENINGS

In The Heights
Synopsis and Schedule
Screenplay/Musical Book: Quiara Alegría Hudes; Cinematographer: Alice Brooks (USA) (Gala – Five Borough Opening Night World Premiere)
Warner Brothers release in theaters and HBO Max on June 10
Playwright Hudes has been a key collaborator on the project since 2004: she tweeted in 2018: “In The Heights is part of my heart and soul. I created it about respect, community and solidarity.” She has adapted her script from the stage version, through off-Broadway debut in 2007, and the next year on Broadway, where she was nominated for a Tony (and where I saw it). For the film, she kept the strongly bi-lingual Latinx dialogue, subtracted and added characters (including a lesbian couple), and updated the gentrification story-line to a bit awkwardly include undocumented immigrant issues around those youngsters who do and don’t qualify for DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals), with no mention that doesn’t apply to the many Puerto Ricans in the story.
The opening up visually to the Washington Heights neighborhood that is central to the story, in Upper Manhattan with its connection to the George Washington Bridge, provides a field day for Director of Photography Brooks. Having worked a decade ago with director Jon Chu on TV dancing series, she draws on every trope of the best movie musicals, especially ones that only pretended to be outside. Her camera ventures up and wide to salute Busby Berkeley and Esther Williams, the Golden Age of MGM Musicals, to the classic Rodgers & Hammerstein screen adaptations. She covers a large, talented dancing and singing cast (her Steadicam crew was kept busy), then effectively gets intimate for the touching family and romantic interactions.
While Lin-Manuel Miranda is the creator and musical force behind this wonderful film, and Jon Chu the director, these two female crew-members are essential to its spectacular cinematic success.


No Sudden Move
Synopsis and Schedule
Editor: Mary Ann Bernard (USA) (Outdoor World Premiere in “Centerpiece Gala for Tribeca’s 20th Anniversary”)
Warner Brothers release in theaters and HBO Max on July 1
No wonder the editing is key to making a tricky, complex noir story comprehensible, with a large, excellent cast in this marvelous cross-class, cross-race evocation of 1954 Detroit, where the Big Car Companies intersect with organized crime and “urban removal”, eschewing the usual crutch of period pop songs for a propulsive jazzy score. Because the name “Mary Ann Bernard” is a pseudonym for director Steven Soderbergh


NARRATIVE FEATURES

7 Days
Synopsis and Schedule
Editor: Stephanie Kaznocha; Composer: Amanda Jones (USA) (World Premiere in “Viewpoints”)
One of several quickly produced pandemic-made romance-related selections in the Festival (and COVID does figure in the plot as debut director/co-writer Roshan Sethi is an M.D.), the comedy feels like a follow-up to the Netflix reality show Indian Matchmaking, which used many of the same tropes, including interspersed interviews with real long-marrieds arranged couples. Helped by editing that sparks up what is basically a two-hander on one set, the initial humor over how “Ravi” (co-writer Karan Soni) and “Rita” (Geraldine Viswanathan) “meet cute” through their mother’s Indian dating sites and that they’re the stereotype opposites (he’s neat, she’s messy, etc.), gets surmounted. The characters become more like actual people the audience can care about.


Asking For It
Synopsis and Schedule
Cinematographer: Jendra Jarnagin; Composer: Lilah Larson (USA) (World Premiere in “Online”)
Not available for me to review


Brighton 4th
Synopsis and Schedule
Editor: Elene Asatiani (Georgia, Russia, Bulgaria, Monaco, USA) (World Premiere in “International Narrative Competition”)
Best International Narrative Feature Film; Best Actor in an International Narrative Feature Film: Levan Tediashvili; Best Screenplay in an International Narrative Feature Film: Boris Frumin
After a prologue in Tbilisi, Georgia, this very Eastern European-feeling film is colorfully set in Brooklyn’s immigrant neighborhood of Brighton Beach, well-known for emigrés from the former Soviet Union. While its image of Russian food, clubs, and gangsters is familiar to Law and Order viewers, the Georgian enclave portrayed here is a new angle -- whatever the ”4th” references. Like all the stories about those who have been coming here for over a century, these distinctive characters have one foot each in the old world vs. the new, their old skills vs. what schemes they do now to get a green card and/or an income to pay for their room in a crowded, too old-fashioned boarding house. Like the opera-singing doorman (played by a popular Georgian actor) who loudly helps them all wallow in musical nostalgia. The complicated, deadpan comic plot almost runs off the rails around the favors being done for those who are all fans of the wrestling champion played by Georgian wrestling champion Levan Tediashvili, who manages to help them all and the smooth editing. I file this under “Cinema of the Absurd”.


Catch The Fair One
Synopsis and Schedule
Story Co-Writer/Star: Kali Reis (USA) (World Premiere in “US Narrative Competition”)
Special Jury Mention: “Kali Reis, for her magnetic performance. She kept audiences on the edge of their seats with her strength and vulnerability in a performance that always felt deeply honest.”
Audience Award for Best Narrative Feature
Interior Secretary Deb Haaland recently set up a special “Murdered and Missing Unit” with the statement: “Violence against Indigenous peoples is a crisis…Far too often, murders and missing persons cases in Indian country go unsolved and unaddressed, leaving families and communities devastated…Thousands of Indigenous women and girls have been killed or vanished for years. Their families and activists say the cases are often disregarded by law enforcement…[I]n setting up a new unit to investigate the cases and coordinate resources among federal agencies and Indian country…[it will] tackle the decades-long crisis of missing and murdered Native Americans.”
While director/co-writer Josef Kubota Wladyka’s previous film Manos Sucias looked and felt as realistic as a documentary, the realism here is deep in the atmosphere of a gritty noir about human trafficking to bring fiction to bear on this crisis. Tracking the pattern of how young women are enticed, entrapped, and more cruelly victimized, especially in rural areas where Native women have fewer opportunities and can be susceptible to employment promises, makes a disturbing thriller revealing a pyramid of profitable networks. The Seneca Tribe in upstate New York helped in casting many roles that provide visceral verisimilitude. Among the few known professional actors in the cast, Kevin Dunn and Lisa Emery are scarily effective as the suburban couple on the top of the cruel pyramid.
The star who with Wladyka over four years “created the story and the characters, but we also collaborated on everything from casting options to locations”, gives her full name as Kali KO Mequinonaog Reis and describes herself as “a mixed Indigenous, Wampanoag, Cape Verdean, two spirited Woman”. Her experience as the International Boxing Association middleweight champion is referenced in the opening scenes as “Kaybee”s flashbacks. But while it appears sadly credible that this mighty woman’s life spiraled down after her sister’s disappearance, in the first third we just have to take as believable (as in a Bruce Willis flick) that the traffickers would size her up and somehow find her susceptible to include in their net. Reis notes: “I've found motivation in being the so-called under dog since birth, constantly fighting for something or having to accept and defend who I am. Not “Native” enough, not “Black” enough, too masculine, too feminine, etc.” Once the violent story gets going, she fills the screen as “Kaybee”, an avenging undercover angel, cleverly and as physically as a major action hero tracing what happened to her missing sister and brings home very personal justice. Regardless of the plot trajectory, I hope this character returns in more such films.


Creation Stories
Synopsis and Schedule
Editor: Emma Gaffney (UK) (World Premiere in “Online”)
With almost half the dialogue about rock ‘n’ roll (and drugs) lost in the fast Glaswegian patter of Alan McGee (young - Leo Flanagan, adult - Ewen Bremner) as ensconced in the sound of Creation Records bands of the 1980s and 1990s, such as Jesus and Mary Chain to Oasis, from McGee’s autobiography written with Trainspottings Irvine Welsh, the busy visuals otherwise carry the film. Gaffney’s editing of an incredible array of archival materials, segued with re-enactments, and the time flows between the adult telling a journalist about his life of coincidences and music are dazzling rhythmic montages that brilliantly carry the humor and the story.


Dating & New York
Synopsis and Schedule
Cinematographer: Maria Rusche; Editor: Hanna Park (USA) (World Premiere in “Online”)
IFC Films will release theatrically, on digital platforms, and Cable VOD September 2021.
Yet another of the millennial rom coms in the Festival, with a sweet musical theater framing and location sketches. Universal are a dating app (called “Meet Cute”), Instagram posts, and texts, home playing on Nintendo and out at bars, food blogging, wedding planning, and break-up templates. There’s also the amusing NYC touches of landlords and leases, “Vows” columns of The New York Times, uptown and downtown, on the subway, at Bloomingdale’s, and sitting on nice furniture left out on the sidewalk for pick-up. Pleasantly thin distraction.


Do Not Hesitate
Synopsis and Schedule
Writer: Jolein Laarman; Co-Composer: Ella van der Woude (Greece, Netherlands) (World Premiere in “International Narrative Competition”)
The fraught, taut story sets young soldiers into the unfamiliar landscape and cultural environment of a Middle East desert like Afghanistan. While fable-like, the premise is credible of Dutch troops rotated in and out on a short-term NATO-like assignment. When their broken, high-tech truck has to be guarded overnight, three with contrasting personalities are left isolated and easily spooked by locals, even a boy, who they can’t tell are friends or enemies. Physically fit to the point of preening, they are inexperienced and trigger-happy. Seeking water, self-preservation slowly escalates into a war crime that haunts them with PTSD. The morality tale is well-embodied by the three main actors (Joes Brauers, Tobias Kersloot and Spencer Bogaert were still students during filming), and well-supported by the production design, and tense score.


False Positive
Synopsis and Schedule
Co-Writer/Star: Ilana Frazer; Co-Story Writer: Alissa Nutting; Co-Composer/Vocalist: Lucy Railton (USA) (World Premiere in “Spotlight Narrative”)
A24/ Hulu release on June 25
Update of Rosemary’s Baby crossed with Boys in Brazil. The score and sound design are very effective.


Italian Studies
Synopsis and Schedule
Editors: Sara Shaw, Erin DeWitt, Kristan Sprague, and Betsy Kagen (USA) (World Premiere in “Spotlight Narrative”)
The editing tries to make sense of this pretentious, beautiful looking muddle: is Vanessa Kirby time traveling? an amnesiac fitting into someone else’s identity? a writer playing out different characters? as she travels through different neighborhoods and classes of New York City and London, just before the pandemic 2020. While the articulate group of NYC street kids are appealing, her temptation attraction with one of the teenage guys is borderline uncomfortable.


Werewolves Within
Synopsis and Schedule
Writer: Mishna Wolff; Composer: Anna Drubich (USA) (World Premiere in “Spotlight Narrative”)
Based on Ubisoft virtual reality game
IFC release in theaters June 25 and On Demand July 2
Inclusion programs really can help women break through the “old boys’ network”. The video game company selected Mishna Wolff for the Ubisoft Women’s Film & Television Fellowship and gave her full access to their available catalogue to adapt for her debut screenplay. Though her last name attracts her to werewolf stories, she wasn’t aware of their intellectual properties, not being a fan of video games, whose producers are not known for their feminism (or interest to me either). So I’m not sure how much was in the original set-up in what Wolff labels “a social-deduction game”. Regardless, her amusingly distinctive characters and the sharp dialogue, even the throw-away lines, particularly for the females, in this bloody good, “R” rated comedy creatively works both as a send-up of the horror genre and as entertainment on its own.
Director Josh Ruben further builds up the script by casting the mixed ensemble of character and comic actors and setting in a real snow-bound lodge of a gentrifying Catskills community (filmed in the village where my cousins had a farm), looking like Stephen King territory. The opening quote from Mr. Rogers leads to the first leading role for the marvelous Sam Richardson (best known from Veep) as a re-assigned forest ranger trying to toughen up the really nice guy he is. He is introduced by a postal carrier (Cecily Moore, familiar from her AT & T commercials) into the nest of vipers, including an environmentalist professor, a pipeline developer, a maple sugar-er/craftsperson, the innkeeper, a gay couple, and a hunter. Though some start out too over-the-top, the continued guessing game of first, Where is the wolf? then, Who is the werewolf?, keeps the viewer busy enough chuckling to skip over those who are more loud mouths that spoofs.


DOCUMENTARY FEATURES

Accepted
Synopsis and Schedule
Co-Cinematographer: Daphne Qin Wu; Co-Editors: Arielle Zakowski and Jean Rheem (USA) (World Premiere in “Viewpoints”)
Not available for me to review


A-HA The Movie
Synopsis and Schedule
Cinematographer: Aslaug Holm; Editor: Hilde Bjørnstad (Norway, Germany) (World Premiere in “Spotlight Documentary”)
Second Place Audience Award for Best Documentary Feature
Not available for me to review


All These Sons
Synopsis and Schedule
Co-Editor: Jennifer Tiexiera (USA) (World Premiere in “Documentary Competition”)
Best Cinematography, Documentary Feature: Bing Liu & Joshua Altman
Inspired by The Interrupters, Steve James’s 2011 profile of community organizers who work on preventing violence, directors Liu & Altman embedded in Chicago for about two years with The MAAFA Redemption Project, under Marshall Hatch Jr on the West Side, and The Inner-City Muslim Action Network (IMAN), under Billy Moore on the South Side, as the city’s shootings and killings of African-Americans by African-Americans soar.
With young Black men mostly likely to be perpetrators and victims, these organizations work one-on-one and in small groups with those most at-risk, most from prison, to provide work and educational opportunities, but also close mentorship and counseling by men who have had similar experiences, that they emotionally describe on camera. The leaders are also sorrowfully candid about those they lost: like one in court facing 30 years: “If you slip and fall from the program, this is what you got”, and talking with grieving families of young men who had been following their programs’ strict requirements only to become victims.
After these introductions, the heart of the documentary is following three of their clients. While identification and subtitles are sometimes provided to help viewers understand the dialogue, the editing is, unfortunately, much more confusing than in earlier documentaries by Liu or those also produced by Davis Guggenheim’s Concordia Studios, in trying to track each young man’s participation, particularly why one left the program or then returned. Regardless, what comes across powerfully is how the ongoing violence has affected these young men since childhood, with haunting PTSD and difficulty concentrating on reading. Getting them to write up what they have been through as “memoirs” and share them with their peers is shown as a key method to break the cycle, leading to individual success stories.


Blind Ambition
Synopsis and Schedule
Co-Writer: Madeleine Ross (Australia) (World Premiere in “Documentary Competition”)
Audience Award for Best Documentary Feature
Not available for me to review


A Choice Of Weapons: Inspired By Gordon Parks
Synopsis and Schedule
Co-Cinematographer: Clair Popkin (USA) (World Premiere in “Spotlight Documentary”)
HBO

Claydream
Synopsis and Schedule
Composer: Heather McIntosh (USA) (World Premiere in “Online”)
A must for animation history fans! Answers all that you ever wondered about the rise and fall of “Claymation” – and its corporate re-birth as Laika Studios. In addition to a wonderful array of film clips (from its first Academy Award, through the California Raisins and M & Ms, the trove of archival material on founder Will Vinton, and detailed interviews with people who worked with him from the 1970s on are informative and insightful. It’s tough to be a Walt Disney wannabe when you have the creativity of early Walt, but none of the business savvy of latter-day Disney. The visuals are so fascinating that I didn’t notice the music.


The Death of My Two Fathers
Synopsis and Schedule
Co-Writer: Shoshana Guy (USA) (US Premiere in “Viewpoints”/ Juneteenth Program)
Framed as a letter to director Sol Guy’s son, his rambling memoir of his complicated blended, bi-racial, bi-national, bi-cultural alternative family, including many home movie clips by his sister Shoshana, does provide insights into the impact of the 1960s/1970s counter-culture on one Black man (the first titular father) from Iowa and his many children in Kansas City and British Columbia. In an unusual family history project, they listen to audio tapes left by their father, and Sol takes a break from his multi-faceted music and arts career to visit this father’s roots-- human, geographical, historical, and musical.
The White, second titular father is pretty much introduced only as he’s dying, so the director exaggerates to say he is half of the spiritual center of the film, though perhaps of his life as the model of a long-time practicing Buddhist. Also barely noted in passing are the impacts of his two Jewish mothers (one from the Catskills, the other from Montreal) who assured the education and stability for the children from a chaotic commune-like setting in Canada. And where the Guys now feel at home.


Father of the Cyborgs
Synopsis and Schedule
Editor: Cara Holmes (Ireland) (World Premiere in “Movies Plus”)
Cargo Film and Releasing

Fathom
Synopsis and Schedule
Editor: Robin Schwartz (USA) (World Premiere in “Documentary Competition”)
Premieres on Apple TV+ June 25.

Ferguson Rises
Synopsis and Schedule
Co-Writers: Kai Bowe and Daisy Mo; Co-Editor: Nikki West (USA) (World Premiere in “Online”/ Juneteenth Program)
Audience Award for Best Online Premiere
Not available for me to review


The First Step
Synopsis and Schedule
Cinematography: Emily Topper; Co-Editors: Sara Fusco, Natasha Mottola, and Leslie Simmer (USA) (World Premiere in “Online”)
With a lot of edited archival material on Van Jones’s legal, Black activist, government, media career and family in Tennessee, as well as the opposition from left and right to his positions, the verité camerawork is the most involving, especially of the uneasy meetings Jones stages between anti-addiction community organizers in White conservative West Virginia and progressive Black/Latino Los Angeles, especially when they share their personal losses due to opioids, heroin or cocaine. (The folks from the hollers, as they self-describe, including a Sheriff, are surprised to learn that so many of the addicts in L.A. who are people of color end up incarcerated.) The camera follows those of the participants who are willing to use their emotional experiences to join together in lobbying both sides of the aisle in Congress and the unpredictable White House (“the dark star” one of Jones’s organizational colleagues calls it) for The Son-in-Law’s bipartisan minimal criminal justice reform bill. The lack of facts and details about the proposed legislation makes the usual lobbying scenes more frenzy than substance. Of course, there are many more cameras around when Jones gets Kim “Don’t ruin the make-up” Kardashian into the Oval Office to personally lobby the 45th President. (Note: Jones’s co-founded organization #cut50 seen in the documentary, and not well explained, is now called Dream Corps JUSTICE.)


The Lost Leonardo
Synopsis and Schedule
Co-Writer Duska Zagorac (Denmark, France, Sweden) (World Premiere in “Spotlight Documentary”)
Sony Pictures Classics release in theaters in New York and Los Angeles on August 13, followed by a national release.
The story of this ostensible DaVinci painting and the connoisseurs, art dealers, and collectors who found and wanted to own it has been told in newspapers and magazines. But this complex story is made entertaining and informative through extensive interviews with almost all those involved. The unraveling makes for a thrilling, visual story with colorful characters from around the world with a plethora of artistic, financial, and political motivations.


The Neutral Ground
Synopsis and Schedule
Co-Writer/Editor/Co-Archival Researcher: Jane Geisler; Composer: Sultana Isham (USA) (World Premiere in “Movies Plus”/ Juneteenth Program)
Special Jury Mention “for the way their use of humor brought audiences into a difficult subject, with vulnerability, authenticity, and at great personal risk”.
Seen on the broadcast version PBS POV premiere July 5
Ironically naming his debut feature documentary for the grassy median boundaries in New Orleans’ streets, director CJ Hunt starts out documenting the 2015 debate in his city about the Mayor’s and City Council’s plan to take down four prominent Confederate and white supremacist statues. After the passions and protests escalated on camera, he debates his cynical father about how to change their minds. The film cleverly examines and illustrates, with amusing graphics he’s honed on Comedy Central’s The Daily Show and archival images, how The Big Lies about the Civil War first developed from grief and furor over Reconstruction, then got formalized by the United Daughters of the Confederacy as the “Lost Cause”: 1) Not About Slavery; 2) States’ Rights - to own slaves; and, 3) Slavery was not that bad. Their propaganda version of history was taught in the South through the 1970s, and then profitably spread through the North by popular culture disinformation to unify white citizens, such as in the clips from D.W. Griffith’s The Birth of the Nation (1915), Shirley Temple’s The Littlest Rebel (1935), Gone With The Wind (1939), and Disney’s Song of the South (1946).
While Hunt and his producer Darcy McKinnon (whose voice is heard in the film) are former middle school history teachers (and they are developing educational resources for distribution with the film, including the founding pro-slavery documents of the Confederacy), the past comes scarily alive “living in a history book” when they accompany their war photographer friend to a demonstration against the removal of another Gen. Lee statue – the 2017 “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville. By the time they are working with Geisler on the final edit, they can include a montage of communities fed up with these lies in 2020 after George Floyd’s lynching to begin taking down monuments and other symbols faster – noting the 511 days after the NOLA City Council had voted for their removal.
Without the comedy, including excerpts from a lecture by historian David Blight, and with a revealing emphasis on Black history challenges to the Big Lies in schools and public education is Rachel Boynton’s documentary on the same topic: Civil War (Or, Who Do We Think We Are), streaming on Peacock as of June 17, broadcast on MSNBC in October.
Historian Heather Cox Richardson notes 23 states have passed or are considering “divisive concepts laws… to control how teachers talk about issues of race, sex, ethnicity, religion, color, or national origin, saying that such discussions are divisive….An inaccurate picture of what creates change means that people cannot make good decisions about the future.”


North By Current
Synopsis and Schedule
Composer: Julien Baker (USA) (North American Premiere in “Viewpoints”)
Premieres on PBS POV November 1, 2021
Baker’s ethereal score signals when director Angelo Madsen Minax switches from straight-forward storytelling of the reality we can see of his Mormon family in rural Michigan to memories, impressions, and different points-of-view. The competing foci are the director’s childhood as a girl seen in many home moves from the 1980’s and 1990’s and perhaps represented aurally by a poetically narrating “Ghost Child” (voiced by Sigrid Harmon), the director’s parents (particularly the grand/mother), and the director’s sister Jesse, who is the emotional center of the film and whose arrest, with her hulking partner David, for claimed abuse in the death of her two-year-old daughter, Kalla, is the precipitating event for the film. While the director mentions the progress and disposition of the case only in passing through voice-overs, the barely speaking sister more and more takes on a Madonna image, always seen with a baby or toddler in her arms. The director criticizes her propensity “to breed”, their mother claims Jesse only cares for her children when they are small and dependent on her then wants another one, while their father preaches against the director as trans because procreation will not result. Proud of the family’s commitment to make the film together, the director considers this approach a political statement: “to resisting quantifying topical information –in effect shifting the frame of reference for what a trans narrative can look like, feel like, do, be”, but it can be frustrating, and even annoying, to watch through to the inconclusive end.


Paper & Glue
Synopsis and Schedule
Editor: Keiko Deguchi (France) (World Premiere in “Movies Plus”)
MSNBC Films will distribute in theaters this fall, followed by a MSNBC primetime premiere in January 2022.
Not available for me to review


The Phantom
Synopsis and Schedule
Co-Editor: Claire Ferguson (USA) (World Premiere in “Online”)
Greenwich Entertainment release in theaters and digital platforms July 2.

The Price of Freedom
Synopsis and Schedule
Editor: Leah Goudsmit (USA) (World Premiere in “Spotlight Documentary”)
Abramorama release in theaters July 7.

Primera
Synopsis and Schedule
Editor: Elisa Correa (Chile) (World Premiere in “Online”)
Not available for me to review


Roadrunner: A Film About Anthony Bourdain
Synopsis and Schedule
Co-Editor: Eileen Meyer (USA) (World Premiere in “Spotlight Documentary”)
Focus Features release in theaters July 16.

The Scars Of Ali Boulala
Synopsis and Schedule
Co-Cinematographer: Iga Mikler
With new attention on skateboarding as an Olympic event with its young teenagers as Olympic athletes, it’s a good time to take a sobering look at the long-term impact of the “sport”s reckless culture. Beyond films on the founding generation, in the documentary Dogtown and Z-Boys and its fictionalization in Lords of Dogtown, Swedish director Max Eriksson and many cinematographers provide a non-California-based, inside look at the irresponsible corporate sponsorship that sends unsupervised teenagers around the world on showcases and to fan-fests to sell branded skateboards. The predictable results of drugs mixed with pride in macho recklessness are horrifically on display in the rise and fall of the titular Swedish skateboarder. However, the film does not delve into whether the terrible motorcycle accident that ended the life of his best friend, an Australian skateboarder, and mentally and physically ruined this central figure had any impact on the selfish structure of the “sport” beyond these disrupted individuals and their families.


Stockholm Syndrome
Synopsis and Schedule
Co-Editor: Kathryn Robson (USA) (World Premiere in “Spotlight Documentary”/ Juneteenth Program)
Not available for me to review


Wolfgang
Synopsis and Schedule
Editor: Arielle Zakowsk (USA) (World Premiere in “Spotlight Documetary”)
Premieres on Disney+ June 25.
Despite the exaggerated complimentary culinary attributions to Wolfgang Puck by most of the interviewees (fans of Berkeley’s Alice Waters may disagree with some claims), the smooth montage editing together of years of archival photographs, TV clips, headlines, nostalgic verité visits to Austria, France, and California kitchens is very impressive, making for a more cannily informative and entertaining film than the usual foodie documentaries.



SHORTS

Narrative Shorts

The Angler
Synopsis and Schedule
Co-Writer/Star: Emily Beth Beacham (USA) (World Premiere in “Pursuing Happiness”)
Not available for me to review


Beautiful They
Synopsis and Schedule
Composer: Freya Berkhout (Australia) (World Premiere in “Let’s Fly Away”)
Not available for me to review


Blush
Synopsis and Schedule
Composer: Joy Ngiaw (USA) (World Premiere in “Animated Shorts Curated by Whoopi G”)
My review forthcoming


Enjoy
Synopsis and Schedule
Cinematographer: Tasha Black (USA) (World Premiere in “Pursuing Happiness”)
Not available for me to review


How To Fall In Love In A Pandemic
Synopsis and Schedule
Co-Cinematographer: Mimi Wilcox (Ireland) (New York Premiere in “Let’s Fly Away”)
Not available for me to review


Leylak
Synopsis and Schedule
Cinematographer: Laura Valladao (USA) (World Premiere in “New York New York 2021”)
Special Jury Mention
Not available for me to review


Navozande, The Musician
Synopsis and Schedule
Co-Writer: Annetta Zucchi; Cinematographer: Nadine Buss; Editor: Myriam Copier (France) (New York Premiere in “Animated Shorts Curated by Whoopi G”)
Best Animated Short Award
My review forthcoming


Nuts
Synopsis and Schedule
Writer: Marianne Leone (USA) (World Premiere in WITH/IN Vol. 2 in “Movies Plus”)
Not available for me to review


Pearl and Henry
Synopsis and Schedule
Editor: Nailah Robinson (USA) (New York Premiere in “8:46 Films: Saturday Morning” / Juneteenth Program)
Not available for me to review


Silence
Synopsis and Schedule
Editor: Shiho Etori (France) (New York Premiere in “Art and Soul” and “Shining Stars”)
Not available for me to review


Try To Fly
Synopsis and Schedule
Co-Writer: Simone Swan; (Canada) (New York Premiere in “Animated Shorts Curated by Whoopi G”)
Special Jury Mention
Not available to review


Documentary Shorts

The Queen of Basketball
Synopsis and Schedule
Co-Editor: Stephanie Owens (USA) (World Premiere in “Go Big”)
Streaming in New York Times Op-Doc
The editing of archival materials is key to this enlightening look at a Black girl in high school and college basketball way before Title IX and the potential of the WNBA, and her own look back at her achievements and options.


Radical Love
Synopsis and Schedule
Cinematographer: Maya Dillon (USA) (World Premiere in “Acting Out”)
Not available for me to review


SPECIAL EVENTS

Gina Prince-Bythewood in conversation with Sanaa Lathan
Synopsis and Schedule
In “Tribeca Talks: Directors Series”/ Juneteenth Program

Amy Schumer in conversation with Emily Ratajkowski
Synopsis and Schedule
In “Tribeca Talks: Storytellers”

Shira Haas in conversation with Ali Wentworth
Synopsis and Schedule
In “Tribeca Talks: Storytellers”

EPISODICS: TRIBECA TV

Blindspotting
Synopsis and Schedule
Co-Executive Producers: Jess Wu Calder and Emily Gerson Saines; Episode Directors: Aurora Guerrero; Angela Barnes and Erin Feeley; Episode Writers: Nijla Mu’min, Alanna Brown and Priscila Garcia-Jacquier; Cinematographer: Tarin Anderson; Episode Co-Editor: S. Robyn Wilson (World Premiere in “Tribeca TV” / Juneteenth Program)
A spin-off to the 2018 film.
Premiere on Starz of first in eight, half-hour episodes season on June 13. No word yet on renewal for Season 2.
While the creative team behind the original film are involved as producers (and hands-on for the first and last episodes), the series focuses six months later primarily on the female characters, particularly the girlfriend/baby mama “Ashley” (played by Jasmine Cephas), as well as her extended family, BFFs, and neighbors. (Several were also in the film). While there are lively evocations of Oakland’s minority communities and entrepreneurship, there are still too many male assumptions, such as a sister who somehow thinks the only businesses she can run are sex-related, from stripping to phone-sex. Amidst the undressed chaos are satirical, hip hop music and dance numbers, and cultural arguments around raising “Ashley”s mixed-race son. Through it all, the characters are appealing.


Biography: KISStory
Synopsis and Schedule
Co-Executive Producers: Jenny Daly and Elaine Frontain Bryant (World Premiere) (A&E Network)
Not available for me to review


David Makes Man
Synopsis and Schedule
Co-Executive Producers: Dee (Denitria) Harris-Lawrence and Oprah Winfrey; Episodes Director: Erica A. Watson; Episode Writer: Kristin Palombo; Episode Editor: Susana Benaim (Season 2 - World Premiere on “Tribeca TV”/ Juneteenth Program)
Season 2 Premiere of 1st of 10 episodes on OWN June 21
After the Screening conversation includes showrunner Dee Harris-Lawrence.
My commentary compares the series to The Wire.


Kevin Can F**K Himself
Synopsis and Schedule
Co-Executive Producers: Valerie Armstrong and Rashida Jones; Episodes Director: Anna Dokoza; Writers: Valerie Armstrong, Shukri Abdi, Lindy Jamil Gomez, Dana Ledoux Miller, and Noelle Valdivia (World Premiere on “Tribeca TV”)
After the Screening conversation includes creator Valerie Armstrong.
Premiere June 13 on AMC of eight hour-long episodes. AMC renewed for Season 2.
A good faith effort to mock all those many sitcoms where an attractive blonde is somehow happily married to a schlub, complete with laugh track and filmed as on a TV set. Here, she is absolutely miserable with him! Away from her husband is the true drama in her life: the wife is having an affair with a high school sweetheart, getting mixed up in drug deals, and trying to arrange her husband’s murder, while adjusting to her friend’s gradual coming out as lesbian.


The Mysterious Benedict Society
Synopsis and Schedule
Co-Executive Producers: Jaime Tarses and Karen Kehela Sherwood; Episode Directors: Shannon Kohli and Karyn Kusama; Episode Writer/Co-Executive Producer: Chelsey Lora: Episode Writer: Taylor Mallory; Episodes Co-Editors: Plummy Tucker; Wendy Tzeng (World Premiere in “Tribeca TV”)
Based on the best-selling children’s book series by Trenton Lee Stewart, published 2007 – 2019 (that I haven’t yet read, but I bought the complete set for mygrandson)
This was the final television series produced by Jamie Tarses; she passed away in February due to complications from a cardiac arrest.
Premiere June 25 on Disney+ of first two of season’s eight episodes. No word yet if renewed for Season 2, based on the subsequent book.
With a marvelous adult ensemble playing against type, led by busy Tony Hale (Veep) in identical twin roles of nice guy vs villain, Kristen Schaal, and Ryan Hurst (Sons of Anarchy, S10+ of The Walking Dead), plus new-to-me MaameYaa Boafo, the casting of diverse talented children is a delight. Especially appealing are Mystic Inscho, Seth Carr, Emmy DeOliveira, and Marta Kessler, each with a different shtick. The first half of the season is charming, with the emphasis on a story of very smart kids who are good at solving complicated word problems, logic puzzles, and brain teasers to get into a special school that viewers will connect to Hogwarts. But like the Harry Potter tale, the plot gets darker as the adult problems come more to the fore, and get nasty. Luckily, the kids can use their unique skills, distinctive personalities, and rebellious resistance to authority to overcome the creepy grown-up issues. While there is a conclusion to this crisis, the door is left open for renewal.


Conversation with Tina Fey, Meredith Scardino and Collaborators
Synopsis and Schedule
Collaborators Robert Carlock and Jeff Richmond

EPISODICS: N.O.W. (New Online Work)/ONLINE SHOWCASE 2021 BY WOMEN DIRECTORS

Circus Person
Synopsis and Schedule
Director/Writer/Co-Project Creator: Britt Lower (USA) (World Premiere)
Re-play from 2020
My review forthcoming


if i’m alive next week...
Synopsis and Schedule
Co-Director/Co-Writer/Co-Project Creator: Jennifer Morris (USA) (World Premiere)

Incarceration Nations: A Global Docuseries
Synopsis and Schedule
Director: Dr. Baz Dreisinger (USA, Brazil, Malawi, South Africa, Taiwan R.O.C., Argentina, Australia, Canada, Rwanda, Italy, Czech Republic) (World Premiere)
Based on Dreisinger’s 2016 book Incarceration Nations: A Journey to Justice in Prisons Around the World, and her work with the Incarceration Nations Network (INN).

VIRAL
Synopsis and Schedule
Co-Directors/Co-Project Creators: Camille Casmier and Chloe Howard (USA) (World Premiere)

IMMERSIVE: VIRTUAL REALITY CREATED BY WOMEN

The Changing Same: Episode 1
Synopsis and Schedule
Co-Directors/Project Creators: Michèle Stephenson and Yasmin Elayat; Co-Writer: Michèle Stephenson (USA) (New York Premiere in “Storyscape Virtual Arcade”/ Juneteenth Program)
Best Immersive Narrative Competition Award

A Life in Pieces: The Diary and Letters of Stanley Hayami
Synopsis and Schedule
Key Collaborator: Sharon Yamato (USA) (World Premiere in “Virtual Arcade”)

Madrid Noir
Synopsis and Schedule
Co-Key Collaborator: Yelena Rachistky (Oculus); Co-Writer: Lydia Rynne (France) (World Premiere in “Virtual Arcade”)

Marco & Polo Go Round
Synopsis and Schedule
Co-Key Collaborator: Cindy Ou (Belgium, Canada) (World Premiere in “Virtual Arcade”)

Mine
Synopsis and Schedule
Co-Key Collaborator: Luisa Dantas (USA) (World Premiere in “Virtual Arcade”)

Missing Pictures Episode 2: Tsai Ming-liang
Synopsis and Schedule
Co-Key Collaborators: Oriane Hurard (ATLAS V), Estela Valdivieso Chen (Serendipity), Marianne Lévy-Leblond (ARTE), and Lamia Dabboussy (BBC) (France, Luxembourg, Taiwan R.O.C., UK) (World Premiere in “Virtual Arcade”)

The Passengers: The Kid
Synopsis and Schedule
Co-Key Collaborator: Karen Vanderborght; Co-Project Creator: Camille Duvelleroy; Co-Writer: Coralie Majouga; Co-Lead Artists: Maude Thibodeau and Joséphine Derobe (Canada, France) (World Premiere in “Virtual Arcade”)

Rebels
Synopsis and Schedule
Co-Key Collaborators: Eleanor Thibeaux and Yelena Rachitsky (Canada, France) (World Premiere in “Virtual Arcade”)

X AWARDS FINALISTS BY WOMEN DIRECTORS

Dear Santa
Director: Dara Nachman (USA) (Feature Film)
Tribeca X Award: Best Feature
My commentary from a preview at 2020 DOC NYC Film Festival


Chinese New Year - Nian
Director: Lulu Wang (Short Film)
Tribeca X Award: Best Short

Dear Future Me
Co-Director: Sarah Klein (Short Film)

A Woman’s Place
Director: Rayka Zehtabchi (Short Film)

CURRENT
Creator: Annie Saunders (Immersive)
Tribeca X Immersive Award and Best Creative Nonfiction Competition

TRIBECA IMMERSIVE: VIRTUAL REALITY WITH WOMEN CREW

Paper Birds Pt. 1 & 2
Synopsis and Schedule
Lead Artist: Erica Villar (Argentina) (New York Premiere in “Virtual Arcade”)
Available on Oculus July 8, 2021

Let me know what female filmmaker’s work I missed at the Festival. I will be continually updating this guide. Contact Nora Lee Mandel at mandelshultz@yahoo.com@NLM_MavensNest





updated 9/12/2021




Nora Lee Mandel is a member of New York Film Critics Online. Her reviews are counted in the Rotten Tomatoes TomatoMeter:
Complete Index to Nora Lee Mandel's Movie Reviews

My reviews have appeared on: Film-Forward; FF2 Media; Lilith, FilmFestivalTraveler; and, Alliance of Women Film Journalists and for Jewish film festivals. Shorter versions of my older reviews are at IMDb's comments, where non-English-language films are listed by their native titles.


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